If we look at 1 Kings 19: 4 and Job 3: 11, 20, 21, 24-26 and Psalm 38: 6,8,10 and Lamentations 3: 17,18 and Mark 14: 33,34, we have to ask the question: did Elijah, Job, David, Jeremiah, and even the Son of God Himself, to name just a few giants of the faith, experience symptoms of depression? Before I explore that, let’s see what depression is and what can be done about it.
All of us feel down on occasion but major depression is defined by the intensity and duration of its symptoms. A person suffering with at least five of the following symptoms for at least two weeks is considered to be depressed.
- Feelings of sadness or emptiness
- Lack of interest in activities that you usually enjoy
- Changes in appetite
- Difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping too much
- Restlessness or irritability
- Feelings of worthlessness, and or hopelessness, and or inappropriate guilt
- Lack of concentration or indecisiveness
- Physical aches or pains
- Recurrent thoughts of suicide
So what can we do about depression? To assess treatment, we need to assess cause, because different causes may necessitate different treatments.
Proverbs 12:25 says “Anxiety in the heart of a man causes depression, but a good word makes it glad” (NKJV). Solomon says that anxiety causes depression. There are actually many causes of depression and anxiety isn’t always one, but it can be.
I also like the NASB which reads, “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs it down, but a good word makes it glad.”
When the heart feels weighed down (depression), it is like a heavy mood hanging over us, and we can feel sluggish, without much energy or motivation.
Here are some more causes.
- Trauma: Childhood abuse and neglect are two examples of trauma that may lead to depression at some point in life.
- Genetics: Depression may run in families.
- Life circumstances: Marital status, relationship changes, finances, and where a person lives, all influence whether a person might develop depression. Grieving the loss of a loved one, or of a dream, etc., may bring on depression. Too much stress, a lack of purpose, loneliness, might be causes. Post-partum depression after childbirth affects between 3 to 6% of women. A lack of daytime sunlight may lead to seasonal pattern depression.
- Here’s a life circumstance that our giants of the faith experienced – a spiritual crisis. Elijah, experienced depression after a great spiritual victory, when he then felt alone and fearful. Job was depressed when he lost everything but his faith. David wrote of his depression caused by his unconfessed sin. Jerimiah mourned and felt depressed over his people who were taken captive because of their falling away from God. Jesus literally carried the weight of the world and all its woes when His soul became exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death.
- Brain changes: Studies of NFL players have indicated a correlation between head trauma and depression.
- Other medical conditions: Sleep disturbances, medical illnesses, chronic pain, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), are some conditions that could lead to the development of depression. Hypothyroidism can mimic depression and some medications can also cause symptoms of depression.
- Drug and alcohol abuse: Approximately 30% of people with substance abuse problems also have depression (National Alliance of Mental Illness or NAMI).
Researching depression before seeking treatment is a good idea, whether for ourselves or for someone we know. Decent sources of information are NAMI.org and Christiandepression.org. The latter’s focus is a non-medical perspective. One of my favorite sources of information is the compilation of Ellen White’s writings on mental health called Mind Character and Personality, volumes one and two.
With a multitude of causes, we shouldn’t consider just one treatment. It’s not one size fits all, so gaining an accurate assessment of what is going on is important.
We can begin by seeing our primary care physician, or going to a reputable psychiatrist, a reputable psychologist, a reputable licensed mental health counselor, or from a reputable licensed social worker.
Some differences that a Christian counselor might consider versus a secular one are:
- The use of methods from researched-based secular counseling if the method agrees with Scripture. Many secular-based methods do agree with Scriptural principles.
- With consent from the client, discussing Jesus Christ as an integral part of the treatment plan for healing and growth.
Here is a quick (not exhaustive) list of common treatments:
Psychotherapy, medication (in conjunction with therapy), light therapy (for seasonal pattern depression), exercise (for mild-to-moderate symptoms), nutrition, nutritional supplements, pure water, sunshine, fresh air, temperance, and rest. Some of these sound so simple but let me pause here.
Remember how God treated Elijah when he ran away, afraid for his life and thinking he was the only one left in Israel who didn’t bow the knee to Baal? God made him rest, then gave him good water and food. He did this twice because once wasn’t enough. Then He got him into a different environment all together and then spoke to him in a still small voice (which can’t happen unless we are in a calm place without distractions to hear His still small voice). Then God assured him that he was not alone. Finally God gave him a new mission, a purpose.
Did you catch all of those heavenly prescriptions for treating Elijah? Included were physical, practical, and spiritual remedies that effectively cured his suicide ideation. The Great Physician is all about using a variety of (alternative) approaches that work.
For a continuation of Scriptural alternative approaches to treatment, please see part 2 of my blog.